Wednesday

23rd Oct 2019

US cables give pointers for EU sanctions on Syria

A fresh cache of leaked US cables has put the spotlight on four Syrian regime money-men not yet targeted by the EU's punitive measures.

The diplomatic notes, published by WikiLeaks in recent days, date from 2006 to 2009 and discuss ways to hurt President Bashar Assad over his suspected role in the assassination of pro-Western politician Rafik Harriri in Lebanon in 2005.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Asma Assad (l) at a state dinner in Paris in 2008. Her father is said by US sources to be hiding regime money (Photo: elysee.fr)

With EU countries currently in the process of expanding their blacklist of 35 people and four companies due to the ongoing killings in Syria, the US dispatches point to Fawas Akhras, Morthada Dandashi, Nabil Kuzbari and Zuhair Sahloul as playing a role in regime attempts to evade international pressure.

Akhras is a London-based cardiologist and the father of Assad's glamour-loving British-born wife, Asma. "Contacts in the banking sector have commented on the large amount of funds that have begun to move recently through his accounts ... He is suspected of being another avenue used by Assad to stash funds abroad," a cable dated 2008 by senior US diplomat Michael Corbin says.

Sahloul is dubbed "the most important black-market money changer in Syria" who helped to stabilise the Syrian pound during a crash in 2005. "Sahloul moves Assad's money using his own network and his access to hawalis [Islamic money-transfer networks] worldwide. A Sahloul intimate bragged to us recently that Sahloul could move $10 million anywhere in the world in 24 hours," the cable adds.

Kuzbari is described as a Vienna-based businessman who helps to hide money for Rami Makhlouf, the regime's main financier (Makhlouf is already on the EU sanctions list): "In addition to lobbying European politicians to engage the Assad regime, Kuzbari reportedly uses his contacts in the Austrian business and banking circles to move regime assets abroad."

Dandashi is a Dubai-based Syrian expatriate said in a separate cable by US diplomat Todd Holmstrom to be in a similar line of work. "[Makhlouf] deposited significant sums under Dandashi's name in the Damascus branch of the Lebanese Byblos Bank," the dispatch notes.

The cable adds that "Makhlouf has also opened accounts under different names in Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, and possibly Cyprus."

The additional EU measures are due this week. The EU and US are meanwhile upping diplomatic pressure ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria on Wednesday (10 August).

The White House in a communique on Friday said France, Germany and the US condemn "Assad's continued use of indiscriminate violence against the Syrian people" after the three leaders spoke in a telephone conference.

The leaked US dispatches also underline rivalries inside the ruling clique - experts, such as the International Crisis Group's Peter Harling, say that a putsch is the most likely way for Assad to go.

One cable notes that "intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities" already in 2006 before the current crisis began.

Another 2008 dispatch cites French diplomat Boris Boillon as saying that President Assad's own brother, Mahir Assad, is a dark horse who in 2008 organised the murder of one rival, military chief Muhammad Sleiman: "French information was that the hit was ... 'classic' and 'Mafia-like' with police stopping traffic in the immediate vicinity, bodyguards looking the other way, and the assailant pumping a slug into Sleiman's head."

The cables add that President Assad fears Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former regime member living in exile in Lebanon who has ties to Syrian securiy services.

With the EU opting to leave Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem off its sanctions list in order to keep diplomatic channels open, the dispatches indicate that he is not to be trusted.

"[Syrian] officials at every level lie. They persist in a lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary. They are not embarrassed to be caught in a lie," a 2009 cable says.

US and EU call for Syrian leader to go

EU countries will on Friday discuss top-up sanctions against Syria after the White House and leading European countries said President Bashar Assad must relinquish power.

EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Remarks to Congress by the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, have shed light on the unusual nature of American diplomacy under president Donald Trump.

Macron warned on danger of Balkans veto

France's veto on North Macedonia enlargement will endanger the Serbia-Kosovo peace process, a senior EU official has warned, but diplomats do not expect Macron to change his mind.

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally. In response, Ankara mocked the decision as a "joke".

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. EU open to imminent Brexit extension, Tusk indicates
  2. EU centrists ally with far right on migrant rescues
  3. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  4. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  5. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  6. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  7. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  8. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us